Doctors decry use of so-called less-lethal weapons in Brooklyn Center

Susan Du, Star Tribune
·2 min read

Health care workers Saturday staged a protest in front of the Brooklyn Center Police Station of the use of so-called less-lethal riot-control weapons, following a week of clashes between police and civilians.

Protests over former officer Kimberly Potter's killing of 20-year-old Daunte Wright have featured nonviolent marches and demonstrations, but also brick-throwing and fireworks. Police have responded with flash-bang grenades, rubber bullets, tear gas and mass arrests.

Some of those people struck by police projectiles, including a Star Tribune photojournalist, have needed emergency medical care.

Victor Ramirez, a 19-year-old who protested multiple nights, was shot Tuesday with a projectile that narrowly missed his left eye and fractured a bone.

"These weapons are being used on people that don't have no weapons in their hands," Ramirez said. He said he's tired of police "saying that they're scared when they have full body armor, when they're the ones with these guns."

In February, University of Minnesota medical student Erika Kaske published a study in the New England Journal of Medicine analyzing projectile injuries stemming from civil unrest over the death of George Floyd.

A review of hospital records from Hennepin Healthcare and M Health Fairview found 89 emergency room visits, including seven people hit directly by tear gas canisters, 10 people struck in the eye, and three left blinded. In 40% of emergency room visits, the patient had been struck in the head, contrary to U.N. guidance on the use of such projectiles.

Kaske said the study was motivated by a teenage patient under 18 who was shot in the head and suffered a skull fracture with bone fragments protruding into the brain, forcing urgent neurosurgery.

"As scientists, we believe in evidence-based practice science … The science is telling us that we must do something different, so let's listen," said Dr. Brooke Cunningham, a family physician and community health professor.

The Brooklyn Center City Council passed a resolution last week banning rubber bullets and tear gas. The Minneapolis City Council issued its own nonbinding resolution.

Neurosurgeon Dr. David Darrow said it wasn't his place to recommend alternative police tactics, so much as show that projectiles are inaccurate and sometimes improperly used.

"I'm not a police officer. I'm a surgeon and a physician and a scientist," he said.

Susan Du • 612-673-4028